Irish Republican News · December 14, 2012
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Unionists feud in flags blame-game


The former Ulster Unionist First Minister David Trimble has accused DUP leader Peter Robinson of cynically stoking tensions over the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall in order to win back his parliamentary seat in its former East Belfast stronghold from the Alliance Party.

He said that British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers may have to issue a decree on the issue to require Union Jacks be flown on designated days on the North’s main civic buildings.

Last week’s decision to limit the number of days the Union flag is flown at City Hall has seen direct attacks on the homes and offices of the moderate unionist Alliance Party and other parties.

Now, a move is underway by the larger unionist parties at Stormont to force the flying of a British Union Jack to fly over the Assembly building 365 days a year, as a counter to the Belfast city council decision. The plan, involving a vote by the little-known Assembly Commission which controls Stormont procedures, is grounded on the fact that the commission is composed primarily of unionist Assembly members.

But David Trimble said the main unionist parties had never previously objected to flying the Union Jack on designated days only.

“I cannot avoid looking at the fact that the Alliance Party, who provided the majority for this compromise at City Hall, is the party that defeated the DUP in east Belfast in the parliamentary election,” he said.

“I wonder if this is something to do with trying to regain support that went to the Alliance Party at that stage. In which case I think it’s a really quite cynical thing for them to be doing.”


The leaders of the DUP and UUP have said they will announce a new initiative when their discussions on the unionist identity and the flags issue are finalised early next week.

In a joint statement today, Mr Robinson and Mr Nesbitt said they “share the stated aim of the protests to defend the Union Flag”, but called again for an end to the protests.

They said they were drawing up “a new initiative, involving people from across the unionist community, that will chart a positive way ahead to address many of the issues of concern that have been raised in recent days.”

But the two parties have been accused of continuing to send out mixed messages as they gave tacit approval for their members to continue to attend the protests.

“We.. have indicated that if, in spite of our advice, protests are organised by others and where our representatives are certain that a protest will be conducted in a completely peaceful and lawful manner, it is a matter for their own judgment as to whether or not they should attend,” they said.

While some unionist politicians have called for an end to the protests, others have taken part. North Belfast DUP sssembly member William Humphrey claimed to have the support of Peter Robinson in attending the protest that resulted in the road being to traffic for over an hour.

Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP has called for “an unequivocal message” from the unionist leaders on ending the protests, and called for talks.

“A way forward on how best to represent and protect the identity and symbols of both nationalists and unionists can only emerge from cross-party and cross-community discussions. Ultimately, any workable proposals needs cross community support.”

He said these discussions need to address the meaning of mutual respect, parity of esteem and how to ensure that symbols and emblems are not used to promote division.

“I am confident that we can map a way forward on this basis. What we need in the coming days is all-party discussions on this issue. Any proposals which have the potential for moving us forward on this issue, will require cross community support. The sooner therefore that these discussions begin the better.”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News